History 1950 to Present
In 1952 King George VI died, and in June the following year his daughter Elizabeth was crowned Queen Elizabeth II amid awesome pageantry in Westminster Abbey. She was unaware that her train carried two extra leaves. During the embroidery a young girl pricked her finger and bloodspurted onto the magnificent material. With commendable enterprise the girl sewed on the additional leaves - one to cover the blood, the other to match it. If the young Queen was unaware of the forgivable deception, she was fully aware of the name of the firm which had done the embroidery - Toye & Co. The company was responsible for many of the robes and accoutrements which made the occasion one of such unsurpassed splendour.
The efforts of Toye’s executives and craftsmen were rewarded with the award of a Royal Warrant from Her Majesty the Queen as suppliers of Gold and Silver Laces, Insignia and Embroidery. Though such an accolade was not new to the firm, as constituent companies of the business had held the Royal Warrant for five reigns starting with Queen Victoria. Bluff, pipe-smoking Frederick E. Toye was Chairman at the time, and there has been a Toye in control since the company was founded.
Since then, the helm has been passed from father to son in every generation. Fred Toye succeeded his father William in 1910 , and when he retired in 1963 his son H.G.D Toye - better known as Bert - took over. Bert is the father of the company’s current Chairman, Bryan Toye.
Toye had not been working in a vacuum unaffected by competition. There were other firms competing for the same markets, but it was not until 1956 that the purely family aspect of the business altered. The firm of George Kenning & Spencer decided they could not continue in business and offered their shares to Toyes. The names of Kenning and Spencer were bywords in the business world in which Toye operated.
In 1801 Richard Spencer began trading in masonic and ceremonial regalia, buying his trimmings from Toye & Co. George Kenning was an enterprising young man, who in 1860 was employed by Edward Stillwell & Sons. He had the temerity to ask for a rise and was promptly sacked. He set up his own firm mainly concerned with uniform trimmings and regalia.
In twenty years he had outstripped his former employers, and by 1880 George Kenning was amongst the largest makers of ceremonial regalia. In addition to being a prominent Freemason he was Master of the Worshipful Company of Gold & Silver Wyre Drawers, a city livery company, in 1893. In time Kenning and Spencer amalgamated, so that when Toye took over control they became the biggest firm operating in their particular field.
In 1957 Edward Stillwell & Sons went into voluntary liquidation and Toye & Co. took over the remaining staff and plant. Mr Clarence Stillwell who was in control at the time had lost both sons in the war and there was no one left to carry on the business. Under the chairmanship of Bert Toye the company expanded both at home and overseas. The world-wide reputation of the firm had been built up by producing goods of unequalled quality that owed much to the highly skilled craftsmen that the firm had recruited and trained through generations. Bert was very concerned to preserve the old craft skills and put great energy into recruitment and apprenticeship schemes. An example of his quest for skilled workers is his importation of Eugenio Moreno, a silver engraver from Madrid.
Despite the absorption of George, Kenning and Spencer into the company many years previous, the title of Toye, Kenning and Spencer to represent all components of the firm only came to being in January 1962.
To preserve the health of the newly named company Bert Toye realised that it must migrate from the inflated rents of its London base. As such he embarked upon an expensive program of enlargement and modernisation at the Bedworth and Birmingham plants, citing “That is our only hope of survival.”
Unfortunately Bert Toye was never to see the fruits of this last endeavour. The firm was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1968, but the forty years of hard work, along with his years of dedication to public service (he was Sheriff of the City of London in 1966-67 and Master of the Worshipful Company of Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers in 1961) took their toll upon his health and he passed away at the relatively tender age of 57 in 1969.
For a brief moment the future looked grim. Bryan Toye, at 31, found himself at the helm of the company. Having been studying the technical side of the business for the past ten years he was no stranger to the company yet few believed he had the experience to resurrect its past glory. Whilst dealing with the grave financial difficulties of the company Bryan found himself also embroiled in a struggle for boardroom control. The rugged will to survive of his Huguenot ancestors came to life in Bryan- he accepted the challenge, took over the chairmanship and won. Under his guidance the company has not only survived, it has enjoyed some of the most successful years in its history.
The acute cash shortage was overcome through a policy of decentralisation, like that advocated by Bryan’s father, Bert. The valuable Red Lion Square property was sold thus enabling Bryan to expand the company as well as branch into other lines of business. The streamlining and restructuring of the business was a mammoth task Bryan boldly pursued whilst making sure that the company never lowered its sights where the quality of product is concerned.
One of the acquisitions under Bryan Toye has been that of the old established City firm of Poston’s. Arthur Poston in fact sold it to Toye’s when in ill health under the assurance that the firm would maintain its tradition of quality and personal service and prevent Poston’s from becoming another shop in a chain of stores.
Perhaps Toye’s greatest achievement remains the relatively unsung truth that it has managed to preserve the talents of highly skilled craftsmen, many of whom have had their talents passed down through generations of family. A great number of these individuals, especially in light of today’s environment, are in danger of being lost, along with their talents, to soul destroying production lines that ignore the necessity of human skill and discipline. The absorption of old-established firms such as John Taylor and Poston’s have helped to preserve the dwindling crafts skill-base.With the congregation of all these icons of the City’s old industry, Bryan Toye is most anxious that all the staff should feel an integral part of the House of Toye. A keen rugby fan, he realises that no good XV ever emerged from fielding a group of brilliant individuals. “I want everybody, no matter in what branch of the group they work, to feel part of the team. All pulling together for a common purpose.”
In 1984 Bryan Toye provided David Kenning (group managing Director) the opportunity to manage the Midland’s manufacturing centres whilst Bryan moved to London as executive Chairman to manage the marketing and sales operation, following his being elected Alderman for the Ward of Lime Street in the City of London.
Bryan became progressively involved in a wide area of activities which saw him become President of the Royal Warrant Holder’s Association, the City Livery Club and Lime Street Ward Club as well as Master of the Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers, The Broderers and Prime Warden of the Goldsmiths. Whilst contributing greatly in these areas the Company benefitted through Bryan Toye’s growing network within the City.
Bryan also became involved in the military becoming Honorary Colonel of 55 Ordnance Company RAOC followed by 124 Havering Petroleum Squadron RLC (V). He was also the Honorary Ordnance Officer in the Tower of London and non-executive Director of the Naval Manning Agency. In contributing his energy in these fields Bryan learned a great deal about the skill, training and personnel of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces than he had in his early days as an Under Officer in his school Cadet Force. Much of what Bryan learned here was applied to the Company, such as enhancing a need for continuous communication, listening with an open-mind, equal courtesy at all levels, training, discipline, decision-making and encouraging leadership.
Toye, Kenning and Spencer remains very much infused with the spirit of a family company, so far retaining its founder’s bloodline within it. However as it has evolved over the years the company has also become ever more reliant, and grateful, on its relatively small but close knit workforce based in the United Kingdom. All these people are keen not only to uphold the prestigious history of the Company but also to see to it that it preserves its status as a Company whose product reflects the qualities that make Britain great.